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Rural Living, City Working in a Digital Age

Rural Living, City Working in a Digital Age

Several years ago I started seeing signs pop up at PwC that said:

You don’t have to be at work to work.

Shortly after, I began hearing about different flexible working options that might be available if the job was appropriate for it. This piqued my interest, because coming back from maternity leave, I was looking for an environment where I was doing interesting work, but on a flexible schedule. My goal was to have that coveted work-life balance.

My husband’s employer was also showing signs of offering more flexible options, so we both decided to try a flex work plan that would have us home more often. It went really well, and six years ago we decided that if we could partially work remotely from Toronto, why not from rural Ontario - where we really wanted to live? With each of our employers' blessing, we moved out of the city.

Many studies have shown the benefits of remote working - both to the employee and the employer. In one study, Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang, who is also a co-founder of the travel website Ctrip, gave some Ctrip employees the opportunity to be remote for a nine-month period, while others remained in the office as a control group.

While I don’t agree with everything in this Harvard Business Review article (to me working from home doesn’t equal working in your pajamas), the results are pretty interesting, Those working remotely completed 13.5% more calls than their colleagues working in the office. In a Huffington Post blog, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of Flexjobs, describes the top benefits of flexible work policies for companies. Highlights include: better teamwork, happier employees, and a wider talent pool.

Working remotely isn't for everyone, but if you're considering it, here are some things I have learned along the way.

[Related: How I Engaged a Global Team to Launch a Product Line Without Meeting Them In-Person]

Dedicated space.

Until my firm started using Google Hangouts, I sometimes worried that my colleagues pictured me on the couch, with my computer on my lap and the TV remote in my hand. However, when my husband and I made the move out of Toronto, one of the must-haves for our new home was a dedicated space for us to work.

Each morning that I am home, I get the kids off to school, make my coffee, and head down to my office. Because I work from home quite regularly, it's important to me that I separate my work from my home life.

I want people to understand that when I'm "at work," I'm working. I don't think it comes across that way if I'm taking meetings from my couch. Though I do admit that in the summer, when the sun is shining, I sometimes work from the kitchen table.

Dress for your day.

Ever since I started working remotely, I have made a point of dressing for work.

Luckily for me, PwC has a dress for your day policy - so, similar to when I'm in the office, I look at my calendar to see how many meetings I have, and I dress for my day.

Be available.

One concern I had when I started out was that people might not think I'm available. To counter this, I make sure I'm on Google Hangouts, and when someone pings me, I answer.

I also connect my work phone through my computer so that when someone calls my office line, I can answer it. This is a big part of the next thing I am going to mention, which is building trust.

Build trust.

I don’t believe WFH can really work without the trust of colleagues. It takes time to build trust, and not very long to break it. I continuously work at gaining (and keeping) the trust of my director, stakeholders, and colleagues.

For me, this is about being consistent. By doing what I say I will do, and by delivering. I would fully expect my director to ask me to come in more if I started breaking trust and not delivering.

[Related: The Power of Trust]

Make sure to take breaks and recharge.

When you WFH, it’s easy to put your head down and work all day. There's no commute in the morning, none at night, and lunch is just upstairs.

I have committed to myself that, when possible, I will take a lunch break and go for a walk. It's easy to get wrapped up in your day, and with no distractions, a lot of time can pass without ever stepping away.

Get face time.

Another one of my worries was the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. If I'm not at the office, will people even know I work here? Google Hangouts has been great for this, because when we have meetings I can see the people on the call, and they can see me.

I'm not 100% remote, and before this pandemic I would be in the office two days per week. When there, I make sure to spend some time walking around the floor catching up with people. I schedule key meetings for days when I'm in the office, and I also try to strategically pick the socials I attend. If it’s something most people will be attending, or if I haven’t seen colleagues in a while, I try to go.

I'm lucky to work with a group of amazing people, and I like to see them for inspiration and to catch up on life.

Embrace the commute.

Via Rail is an excellent way to travel, and I have fully embraced my commute. Sometimes I catch up on work (it's great to have extra work time without impacting my family). I also listen to podcasts and audiobooks, check out my social networks, and watch Ted Talks (I am addicted to Ted Talks).

The point is, my commute is not wasted time. It’s valuable time - time that a lot of people (especially those with small kids) just don’t get to have.

While I certainly don’t know the secret sauce to successful remote working, I do know what works for me. If you want to read a really great piece, check out Five Years of Flexible Work at PwC by Anne Donovan, People Innovation Leader, PwC US. Anne does mention working in pajamas, which I'm starting to think I need to reconsider.

I truly believe if you're consistent in your work, making commitments, and meeting the expectations of your stakeholders, boss, and colleagues, then people shouldn’t care where you physically are. Like the sign at PwC said, you don’t have to be at work to work.

[Related: 7 Ways to Offer Flex Work At Your Company]

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Bonnie Mouck is a marketer with over fifteen years of experience. She is the Senior Manager for the Brand Experience team at PwC Canada. She runs a podcast called Run it Like a Girl, which tells the stories of women from a variety of fields who are breaking barriers, leading in their fields, and going for what they want.


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